Façade to street to façade: Negotiating public spatial legality in a world heritage city

Little, W. E.

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Little, W. E. (2014). Façade to street to façade: Negotiating public spatial legality in a world heritage city. City & Society, 26(2), 196–216. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gc.cuny.edu/10.1111/ciso.12040

Governmentality , Guatemala , Informal Economy , Street Vendors , World Heritage

All UNESCO urban World Heritage sites are strictly regulated. In Antigua, Guatemala, this includes building façades and streets, as well as the use of public places. Homeowners and building owners, however, challenge regulations by using unapproved paints, signs, and building materials. Residents modify building façades to accommodate cars and open walls to effectively blend home-based businesses with the street. At the same time, street vendors contest regulated public spaces by behaving inappropriately by selling goods on public streets rather than designated marketplaces. Rather than conceive of property owners and vendors behavior as outside and in contrast to the building and street vending regulations, I reframe their actions within what I am calling urban spatial permissiveness, a concept I derive from Roy’s (2004) theory of the unmapping—flexible regulation—of urban space. Antigua offers an ethnographic setting that shows how regulations are not always rigidly enforced but are negotiated to deal with everyday contingencies that relate to residents’ and vendors’ rights to the city (Harvey 2008). By way of conclusion I consider Foucault’s concept of governmentality as a negotiated process, in order to argue that relationships between building regulations and public space usage reveal the limits of legality and strict enforcement policies.

Main finding
The author develops the concept of spatial permissiveness to understand the negotiated interaction of governmental regulation of the built environment with 1) how urban space is actually used by residents (ie. when they necessarily violate building codes) and 2) vendor uses (ie. through illegal, but necessary economic practices). The author creates the term 'spatial permissiveness', drawing on Ananya Roy's unmapping, as the allowance of regulatory flexibility and informality that serves the state. Evidence of the spatial permissibility is indicated in: 1) ignoring or accepting certain code-violating building modifications for a growing population, 2) allowing pragmatic and affordable solutions for lower income owners to maintain architectural heritage, and 3) city resistance to the tourist-police's crackdown on street vendors when it's recognized that tourist want to see Mayan vendors in the Spanish Colonial Architectural context.

Description of method used in the article
Borrowed Roy's concept of unmapping, or the flexible regulation of urban space, to develop the concept of spatial permissiveness. Based on 20 years of research in and bi-yearly fieldwork in Antigua; includes: participant observation, surveys, interviews, and conversation both in person and through social media.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Economic Transactions
Field Observations
Physical types
Markets Sidewalks Streets
Geographic locations